I stare downward at the sidewalk as we step past people living in homelessness standing and laying beside walls. For some, the walls act as support, providing a foundation to rest on, to sleep beside. For others, the walls provide a space to interact, to have conversation and ‘just kick it’ with her/his street family.
Despite their many differences, people experiencing homelessness all have something in common; two things in particular. They are all human, and they are all waiting, waiting on something, waiting on anything.
Our walk takes us beside the community garden. I lift my head and glance at the thermometer clinched to the side of the fence. The mysterious red liquid inside the thermometer is stretching toward the 95 degree line. Despite the heat, Jennifer (my colleague), Reginald, and myself are on a walkabout, headed for the nearest coffee shop.
As we walk, Lower Downtown’s lunch time traffic zooms and vroom’s past us; the breaks on a woman’s bicycle screech for attention; a Boston terrier, to our right, howls for someone to pet him. Amid the noise of the city streets is Reginald’s voice.
“I met my father when I was 18 years old, but he was a good role model to me. When I met him he didn’t want me selling drugs. He didn’t want me [out there] gang banging. He made me go back to school. He taught me how to read and write when I was 18. It was nice; he was a good man; he is a good man. He always taught me to be better, to strive to be a good man too.”
Reginald pauses. We’ve arrived at our table, located outside on the patio of Snooze. “I have two salted caramel lattes and a regular latte” says the barista, setting our drinks on the table. Reggie reaches for his, a salted caramel latte. He also reaches for a napkin. When he talks about his father he gets emotional; he wipes the tears from his eyes, and continues his story.
“My father was a mother and a father to me; my mom was a drugee, she lost custody of us when I was a child. I lost contact with everyone in my family…I only stopped talking to my father because of what I was doing at the time. He heard I was doing drugs and when he found out his face looked like he was disappointed…I feel like I messed up, like I ruined his name…I want to make my father proud. I would like to help juveniles like I was. I think that’d make him proud. A lot of them are in a big haze that they can’t get out of. I want to give them chances, give them opportunities. They need something to do, because in the neighborhoods that’s why we turn to gang-banging, because there’s not [anything] to do…I didn’t have no help either. I turned to what I could, and what I thought was right. Turns out gang-banging wasn’t right.”
“I used to be a drug dealer too,” Reggie says. “That’s all I used to do…the drugs I sold I turned to for some kind of comfort. I felt when I was doing drugs that I was happy, then, in just a short amount of time, I watched everything I had go away. My wife. My step kids. My job. I lost everything. I never wanted anything else in life than to be clean, again. I mean its like I told God when I was selling dope. ‘If this ain’t what you want me to do, give me a sign.’”
“He took everything away from me, everything, and now I’ve started to participate and actually do something with my life…I mean I’ve been down here [at the Mission] for three weeks and I’ve done no drugs…He hasn’t given [everything] back to me, but instead he’s saying to me, ‘you messed up kid, but you still have a chance. You can either fix what you’ve done and become better or you can continue to go downhill.’”
“When you talk about youth, you get excited, you get passionate.” I say. “Where does that passion come from Reggie?”
“Nobody helped me when I was a child, I went through [a lot]. If somebody would have stepped in I wonder where my life would be. I wonder the individual or the man I would have become. I wonder what accomplishments I would have already succeeded in, just what I would have been able to do with my life. It’s not right for anybody to suffer like I did. I mean, not many people survive being shot too many times, or being stabbed, or having your finger cut off. Why should people go through what I went through? We all grow up in bad places and in areas and situations that we can’t control, but we shouldn’t have to stay there. That’s why I get passionate, because why should a child lose their life because he or she has no environment from which to succeed? Why should a kid think ‘this is all I got?’ Why should they be like, ‘you know what, since I ain’t got [nothing else] I might as well give up.’”
“What about people living in homelessness? What do you want people to know about homelessness?” asks Jennifer.
“Not all of us are drug addicts. Some of us do have problems that stretch more than just drugs. A lot of us have mental health problems. A lot of us have trust issues. A lot of us have issues because we’ve never had nobody to back us up or to say you’ve done a good job. [A lot of us] have turned to the drugs because not only are we now homeless, but now we have lost everything. Some of us have lost the willpower to live, so we turn to what we can to find comfort…some people turn to God. Some people go to their family, but some people turn to the streets. Everybody has their own coping mechanism to deal with their stresses, and homeless people are no different.”
He’s right. The people we stepped past to get to this coffee shop are no different than Jennifer and I. We’re all humans. We’re all waiting, looking forward to experiencing something greater than our own story.
“You know, a lot of people look at us like we’re just a nobody. Most people don’t care who we are; they could not care less. They just look at us like we’re a face. I just want people to see that I came from a grinding area to a place of being loved, and that’s all I want. That’s all I’m waiting for; that’s what I look forward to. I just want to be loved…”
Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, a Next Step Coordinator at the Lawrence Street Community Center, offering insights and real life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.